Lou Gish

Actress of intelligence and grit
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Louise Curram (Lou Gish), actress: born London 27 May 1967; died London 20 February 2006.

In person Lou Gish, who has died of cancer aged only 38, was beautiful, funny, kind, affectionate, and astonishingly popular. As an actress she was multiply talented.

Last year - following the death in March, also from cancer (aged 62), of her mother, Sheila Gish - she played Goneril in Steven Pimlott's King Lear at Chichester Festival Theatre. Her sister, Kay Curram, was Cordelia. Anyone who saw the performance will never forget it: in figure-hugging black, green eyes glinting from beneath a ton of black mascara, Lou Gish smouldered on to the stage. As she opened her mouth and purred to David Warner, "Sir, I love you more than words can wield the matter . . .", there cannot have been a spine in the audience without a shiver down it. Gish was heartbroken when her cancer returned and, in June, she had to withdraw from the production.

She was born in London in 1967 to the actors Sheila Gish and Roland Curram, and educated at Macaulay Church of England Primary School in Clapham, Alleyns School in Dulwich, Furzedown School in Wandsworth, and Camberwell School of Art. After leaving Camberwell she worked in a variety of jobs (for a while as an assistant for the theatrical agent Jeremy Conway), and it was not until her mid-twenties that she decided to follow the instinct that she said she had been trying to ignore: to become an actress.

After appearing in a production of Grigory Gorin's Forget Herostratus! (or "Forget Your Career" as she dubbed it) at the White Bear Theatre in Kennington, Gish was offered a job at the National Theatre - as an understudy in Sean Mathias's production of Les Parents terribles.

Thereafter she was in work almost constantly, in both theatre and television. As Helen Carver in Design for Living at the Donmar and in the West End, she literally dazzled the audience in what one critic described as a "glittering sheath". When, in 1988-89, she played Ann to Ewan McGregor's eponymous hero in Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs she showed grit and vulnerability in equal measure, reducing many of the audience to tears as she crawled, weeping, across the stage in the final moments of the play, having been beaten up by Malcolm and his gang of weak-willed politicos.

Spells at regional theatres were punctuated by other West End and London fringe appearances, and at the same time her list of television credits was growing: she starred in the BBC sitcom Holding the Baby (1997), and appeared regularly in the television comedies Game On and Coupling. As well as making a name for herself as a comedienne, she also showed a brilliant streak as a dramatic actress when appearing in, amongst many other things, the fourth series of The Vice (2002).

It was while she was playing the title role in The Duchess of Malfi at Salisbury Playhouse in 2002 that Gish had a recurrence of the cancer that had first been diagnosed three years previously, and it is a testament to her talent and determination that she was able not only to produce a striking performance of real intelligence, depth and clarity, but also to deal with the considerable pain to which her illness was subjecting her.

I first met Lou Gish in 1994. I heard her laugh before I even saw her face. When I saw it, about five minutes later, I was struck not only by her beauty, but also by the joie de vivre she emanated. Her friendliness and charm were irresistible and within weeks we were friends for life.

One of her greatest gifts, aside from those as an actress and as a friend, was as artist. From her little doodles by the phone to her gorgeous charcoal life-drawings and her exquisite line drawings and watercolours, her skill was more than evident. In 2004 she had a small exhibition at a gallery in West Hampstead. She was better than a "part-timer"; this was someone with an undeniable gift.

Lou Gish was heroic in her long struggle with cancer. Although she would have it that she was only "doing what she had to do", to onlookers her bravery seemed extraordinary.

She and her partner of six years, the actor Nicholas Rowe, were completely devoted. Lou took particular pleasure in arranging (surprise) events for Nick's birthday each year. Such heartfelt and sincere devotion was a lesson in love for all who beheld it.

Fiona Laird